Dealing With Massive Disruption in Your Photography Business with Michael Anthony
I’m writing this at the beginning of May 2020, which was the start of what was to be an incredible year for our business. Bookings were up 25%, revenue was up 15%, and new leads were pouring through the door to create a very low-stress 2020. I had just hired two new employees and was beginning to finally expand my business into different vertical markets.
Out of nowhere, our country was hit with the largest pandemic in over 100 years. The state of California ordered nonessential businesses to shut down, all while encouraging us to maintain our staff. As we went through late March and early April, weddings on our calendar began to eviscerate. Concerned couples started postponing their weddings or canceling altogether. We were prepared for a record year, and a record year is what we are going to get. However, this is likely going to be a record low as opposed to the record high.
So with that being said, how does a business immediately shift gears? We have had to deal with ups and downs before, but never a down that was so severe that it literally prohibited the main service that we provide to our clients.
Welcome to business disruption
Our industry has experienced disruption before, but 10 years from now we will bear the badge of honor of the great pandemic of 2020. That badge will dwarf those who survived the film-to-digital transition as well as the 2008 recession.
But that badge is only earned by those of us who make it out of this mess. Today I am going to talk about the things we are doing to set our business up for success long-term.
As I write this, I don’t want to make the entire article about how to deal with this pandemic. The reason for that is because this specific disruption will come to an end at some point. Instead, I would like to make an article that can help anybody dealing with business disruption to come out stronger on the other side.
So let’s get into my top three tips for dealing with disruption in your business.
1. Assess the damage using the SWOT technique
When I was a police officer, the term SWAT meant something entirely different. However, as a police officer, there was one thing that I learned that definitely translates into business. Before making any major decisions you have to assess all possible outcomes, and there is nothing better for doing that than conducting a SWOT analysis.
The SWOT analysis stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It’s good practice to conduct the SWOT analysis on your business every six months, but it is crucial to do so every 30 days when evaluating a major business disruption. A business disruption could be something that happens quickly like this pandemic, or something that happens over time like the transition from film to digital. Either way, if you are noticing influxes of negative action in your business, it’s best to get on top of them immediately.
The only difference between a disruption SWOT analysis and a normal one is that during the business disruption your SWOT analysis should be dealing with the disruption directly. Let me explain how that works.
For this pandemic, here are our strengths:
- Strong support from clientele
- Strong vendor support
- Associate photographers to take on future booked dates
Here are our main weaknesses:
- Event revenue to portrait revenue ratios are not favorable (event bans are likely to last longer)
- Needing to rely on venues to give dates to clients
- High costs compared to competitors because of our business size
Here are our main opportunities:
- TIME. This is a huge opportunity
- Ability to work on SEO
- Ability to work on Vertical Markets
- Ability to gain favorable perception from my clients by working with them in this situation
- Ability to work on portfolio once initial lockdowns are lifted
Here are our main threats:
- Uncertainty can cause our clients to cancel outright
- Postponed weddings taking dates from future clients = lost revenue altogether
MAPhoto was a strong business no doubt, but this pandemic exposed major weaknesses in our business. Specifically our reliance on events. Now, nobody would have ever thought in a million years that there would be a worldwide pandemic that would particularly target large groups of people, but at the same time, it’s always better to not have all of your eggs in one basket.
Now after analyzing with SWOT analysis, I can see that my biggest opportunity is the time that is freed up while the world is on pause. You will often see that your weaknesses can be solved by your opportunities and every strong business owner will value time almost as much as money.
So, we have used this time to build a stronger business that is less reliant on a single revenue stream. Assessing the damage through SWOT analysis is absolutely essential when working through uncertain times. That brings me to step two.
2. Adapt to change
Every business disruption in history brought about change in one form or fashion. Look at the transition from physical video stores to online streaming. Not only did it bring change to the way that viewers consume content, but that very change brought about new methods to produce it. Low-cost streaming services like Netflix have purchased foreign movies and TV shows, dubbed them into multiple languages, and successfully introduced them to new markets. This technique was never needed in the past, so it was never thought about. Netflix in general is a great example of a company that adapts to change. They changed the way that the rental industry worked by delivering DVDs to your mailbox, and then when the Internet became faster, they introduced online streaming. When Hollywood made it very difficult for them at every step to obtain new content, they started producing their own content, and when competitors stepped into the market to finally follow their lead, they were so far ahead of them that none of their competitors could compete with their library.
Now in this pandemic, Netflix is considered an “essential” business.
Netflix accomplished all of this by being amazing at one trait: adaptation.
I had an employee when I first started my business that would get so frustrated at how quickly I would change policies and processes. He would always tell me that he could never develop consistency because I was always changing the way that we were doing things. I responded to him that the only thing that was going to be constant in our business was that it would always be changing. And while the rate of those changes has dropped off significantly, the reason why we were able to achieve success so quickly was because I was always willing to adapt to new ways of doing things.
There is a term in business that drives any new venture that we partake in, and that term is to fail fast. By doing that you can limit the amount of time that you spend on doing something that is not profitable and test and tweak it until it is.
How is this relevant in business disruption? Business disruption by nature is change, so by being able to adapt to the new normal, you will quickly be able to overcome the challenges you are dealing with. The challenges may not come in the form of a pandemic, but it could come in the form of an illness, divorce, new child, lack of time, or something else that only affects you as opposed to the entire world. However, the need to adapt to that change will be exactly the same no matter what that change is.
Now that all changes are created equal, there are two types of change in your business. There is reactive change and proactive change.
Reactive change comes in response to disruption. Things like updating your contracts or changing your cancellation policies are all reactive changes. Reactive changes can help prevent problems in the future to help make it a stronger business. Proactive changes are making changes to your processes prior to them causing problems. Proactive changes are adaptive, and allow you to get out in front of your market when chasing a new venture.
The entrepreneurs that are always struggling to keep up are good at reactive change, but the entrepreneurs that are always winning are extremely good at proactive change. In step one I talked about the SWOT analysis, and this SWOT analysis shows opportunities that can help me find proactive changes in my business, such as diversifying our revenue streams.
This is why you see so many stories of businesses that are built during recessions. They are usually a result of entrepreneurs being forced to think outside the box to make positive changes in their business to succeed. And I want you to understand that I’m talking to you today about entrepreneurship rather than just photography. As a photography business, you are no doubt struggling right now, but using the opportunities you discovered in step one can truly help you to come out of this in a positive way. And that brings me to my last tip for dealing with business disruption.
3. Hustle, hustle hard
To anybody reading this who has seen success at one point in their photography business for a sustained amount of time, I want you to remember how hard you worked to get there.
As this pandemic has caused chaos on the economy, the world has seemed to stop on a dime. So if you think about the rat race that we all lived in, adapting to this new normal of stay-at-home orders and banned events has been a culture shock to many busy entrepreneurs.
The need to protect the public has come at a massive cost to the economy, forcing business owners to stop doing the one thing that they all want to do the most: grow.
The most important thing to understand about all this is that one day if it hasn’t already happened by the time you are reading this, the economy is going to open, and that is when the real race starts.
All the hard work that you have done with the extra time is going to only move you closer to pole position in the lineup once all of the restrictions are lifted. But despite where you start, you know that the fastest car, when driven by the best driver, will still come out on top of the race.
You have an opportunity now that you haven’t had for years. All of your competitors that have rested on their laurels are going to expect that their business will continue as normal when the economy opens up.
Please don’t make this mistake
The economy has changed, and it is driven by confidence. If brides are not confident that people are going to show up to their wedding, they will continue to postpone until further out in the future. You are going to have to work hard for every booking. This means that you are going to have to put in the time to visit your vendors, develop your relationships, and build a business in the new economy that is sustainable even through a pandemic.
Your goal coming out of this is to work harder than you have ever worked before, putting in all of the hours necessary to accomplish your goals.
And let’s talk for a second about goals. Not setting a goal is like getting in a car to drive to a destination that you do not know. Once you have your destination, then you can enter it into navigation and get all of the steps you need to accomplish that goal. Right now during this time, you can set your goals and put your plan together so that once the economy opens, all you have to do is follow the directions to get there.
So hustle, hustle hard and you will get to the other side of this thing in better shape than you came into it. I honestly hope that anybody reading this article or watching the accompanying video emails me at some point in the near future telling me that the advice they read in this article helped them to build a business stronger than it ever was before. Let this article guide you to making it out to the other side. We’ll catch you in next month’s Shutter Magazine.